Critical Mass (Gravity’s Rainbow)

“I think that there is a terrible possibility now, in the World. We may not brush it away, we must look at it. It is possible that They will not die. That it is now within the state of Their art to go on forever—though we, of course, will keep dying as we always have. Death has been the source of Their power. It was easy enough for us to see that. If we are here once, only once, then clearly we are here to take what we can while we may. If They have taken much more, and taken not only from Earth but also from us—well, why begrudge Them, when they’re just as doomed to die as we are? All in the same boat, all under the same shadow… yes… yes. But is that really true? Or is it the best, and the most carefully propagated, of all Their lies, known and unknown?

“We have to carry on under the possibility that we die only because They want us to: because They need our terror for Their survival. We are their harvests… .

“It must change radically the nature of our faith. To ask that we keep faith in Their mortality, faith that They also cry, and have fear, and feel pain, faith They are only pretending Death is Their servant—faith in Death as the master of us all—is to ask for an order of courage that I know is beyond my own humanity, though I cannot speak for others… . But rather than make that leap of faith, perhaps we will choose instead to turn, to fight: to demand, from those for whom we die, our own immortality. They may not be dying in bed any more, but maybe They can still die from violence. If not, at least we can learn to withhold from Them our fear of Death. For every kind of vampire, there is a kind of cross. And at least the physical things They have taken, from”“Earth and from us, can be dismantled, demolished—returned to where it all came from.

“To believe that each of Them will personally die is also to believe that Their system will die—that some chance of renewal, some dialectic, is still operating in History. To affirm Their mortality is to affirm Return. I have been pointing out certain obstacles in the way of affirming Return…”

From pages 539-40 of Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.

The sermon is from a Jesuit, one Father Rapier, and takes place in one of GR’s stranger episodes (which is really saying something, that adjective there). Before the sermon—a “Critical Mass,” our narrator takes unusual pains to make sure that we get it, that we understand that the Jesuit is here to preach “against return. Here to say that critical mass cannot be ignored. Once the technical means of control have reached a certain size, a certain degree of being connected one to another, the chances for freedom are over for good.”

Compare the Jesuit’s notation of “once, only once” to the passage on pages 412-13 on Kekulé, the snake that eats its own tale: “…a quote from Rilke: ‘Once, only once…’ One of Their favorite slogans. No return, no salvation, no Cycle—”. The sermon also echoes the They/We riff on page 521.

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